Meditation

Practice, contemplation, and insights

A Reason to Get Out of Bed

Today, when I was trying to burrow more deeply under the covers when invoked to wake by the usual sounds, I thought about the way young children or pets are eager to get out of bed and to get you out of bed, even if it is for nothing more than to say good morning or eat breakfast.  The moment they open their eyes, the day looks promising.  At what point does bed (even if we have had enough sleep) come to seem more desirable than getting up?

I am not particularly eager to go to work today — things are rather stressful at this juncture on my project.  I do know, though, that sitting for meditation is always good.  I also know that on the days I practice fully in the morning, my day is more enjoyable no matter what happens.  Knowing that I have the time and space to practice if I wake timely is always a good reason to get out of bed and is what drew me out of the comfort of lying under the covers this morning.

Now that I am done with my practice, I can also enjoy what spectacular weather is on offer today.  An added bonus.

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What is Beauty? (and “Ankle Loop”)

When I was meditating this morning, the last lines of Keats’ ‘Ode on A Grecian Urn’ welled up in my thoughts: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  How odd, I thought, for this to appear, as if out of nowhere.  I have been contemplating this week on what it means to be refined, but not in the way of an aesthete.  Rather, as I have been concentrating on the Anusara alignment principle of “ankle loop,” I have been thinking about how deepening our practice with repeated exploration and study we are able to refine our understanding and the flow of energy within us so that we can be more connected to ourselves and each other.

As I understand the essential structure of the Anusara principles, the “loops” are really tertiary principles.  The primary principles are those of “attitude, alignment, and action,” which are the principles of how we practice.  The secondary principles are the fundamental physical and energetic principles — “opening to grace, muscular energy, inner/expanding spiral, outer/contracting spiral, organic energy.”  The loops serve to refine the secondary principles.  Ankle loop, for example, which starts at the base of the shin bone, travels down the back of the heel and then back up through the arch, energizes the foot, lifts the arch, supports our stance and helps us focus muscular energy.  When we are feeling challenged finding as much muscular energy in our feet and legs as would be optimal for a full expression of the pose, we can use ankle loop to refine our understanding and practice of muscular energy in the legs.  Keeping in mind the primary principles of practice, though, the refinements should also always lead us towards the heart and not just get us into details.  Getting more sophisticated and refined, likewise should not lead us to disdain for that which is unrefined.

Funny, then, that the aesthete’s call to beauty should arise in my meditation while I have been consciously thinking about refinement.  What does it mean to appreciate and study refinements, but still honor and delight in a novice’s full expression of “attitude, alignment, and action” as much as an impeccably aligned and skillful pose that does not reveal a yearning for spirit?  Beauty may be truth, and truth beauty, but what is “beauty?”

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Nail Soup (and reminders)

One of my favorite fairy tales is the one about the traveler who teaches the old woman how to make “nail soup.”  It is a cold, wintry night in the forest, and a traveler comes upon a hut.  He knocks on the door and asks for shelter.  The old woman who lives in the hut says he can sleep in the shed, but she cannot give him any food.  The traveler thanks her for providing shelter.  He says he does not need food, but if she lets him in by the fire, he will show her how to make soup from a nail.  The woman, who is rather miserly, is excited by the idea of being able to make soup from a nail, so she lets him in and puts a big soup pot filled with snow to melt over the fire.  The traveler puts the nail in the soup and says, “what a wonderful broth we will have from this nail.  If we only had a potato or two, it would be even better.”  The woman roots around in her hoard and puts a potato in the pot.  “Now it will be even more wonderful,” said the traveler.  “If we only had an onion to add, it would be the most savory soup you have ever tasted.”  The woman goes to her winter stores and finds an onion.  The traveler sniffs the soup, “mmm, how wonderful it smells, if we had a carrot or a parsnip, it would be gracious enough for any guest.”  The woman, trembling with the excitement of creating soup from a nail, adds both a carrot and a parsnip.  At this point, the broth is starting to take on thickness and color, and the hut is redolent of bubbling hot vegetable soup.  “Oh for some salt and a little meat,” cried the man, “and this soup would truly be fit for a king.”  “From only a nail, soup fit for a king!” exclaimed the old woman, “that I must have.”  She added a precious pinch of salt and some meat dried to last through the winter.  The soup, of course, was delicious, the traveler well-fed, and the woman happy to share (even if she was tricked).

Sometimes we need a reminder of our abundance, both inner and outer, to be invited to bring out all we have so that we can better serve.  Just as the traveler with the nail reminded the isolated old woman of how to share her abundance, sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what we have rather than what we are missing.  I find that when I am feeling more empty than full, coming to my mat and my meditation cushion and practicing gratitude quickly helps me remember.

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New Computer (and the benefits of practice)

My friend D the other week had been talking about how much longer every thing takes to get done in a new city and home (he just moved across country).  I was thinking about that as I work to get up to speed on the replacement computer that came into my house yesterday afternoon.  I can tell there is lots of extra functionality, but at first, I am slower than I was with my old computer (at least five generations old) because I need to learn some new commands and navigation tools, as well as recreate my old bookmarks and remembered passwords, etc.

To be able to cope with life, we need to be willing to go out and explore, try new things, to be willing to have the time and struggle to learn enough to feel comfortable with a new place or technique.  To mature gracefully, we need to sometimes stay with the old (whatever choices led us there) and continue to refine so that we can go deeper and deeper into knowledge of what we have chosen.

Sometimes we have a real choice, sometimes we have no choice, sometimes we have an apparent choice, but only one sensible one.  One of the beauties of steady yoga practice is that it prepares us both for the new and for repetition.  It truly shows us the beauty and delight of revisiting, reexploring, and ever deepening our understanding of the complexities of what appears simple.  It also cultivates the fortitude and openness to start anew when necessary.

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Breitenbush Retreat (and bringing joy back home)

rainbowI returned home last night from eight days away, five of which were truly on retreat — just meditating, bathing in hot springs, hiking, eating well, practicing yoga, and celebrating with dance and music.  To see pictures, click here.

The focus of the week was honoring the past and engaging in the present so as best to serve the future.

We left Breitenbush Hot Springs mid-afternoon on Thursday.  Rather than take a red eye, I stayed Thursday night at an airport hotel and took an early morning flight home on Friday.  I woke early Friday morning and rested in meditation to ease the shock of going from an off-the-grid community in the forest to an airport hotel.  This rainbow glowed over the airport while I was waiting for the hotel shuttle to take me there for my flight.

The rainbow reminded me to carry the deep joy of the retreat home with me.

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“Sometimes I have nothing to say”

Several years ago, when I still had a working art studio in my house, the favorite thing to do of a friend’s child when the family came over was to go into the studio to see what I was painting.  I had just finished a piece on which I had painted the words, “Sometimes I have nothing to say.”  D was five or six at the time — just learning to read full sentences.  He chortled delightedly, pointed to the painting, and exclaimed, “I get it!  I get it!”

As I have been studying and contemplating yoga philosophy in a group setting recently, I have been thinking about the tension between saying and not saying, the conundrum of yearning to communicate the indescribable, and the countervailing desire just to experience and not to try and describe or communicate.

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It is the days

when I have too many different things to do that sitting for meditation and doing a little asana is most important.  We always have 25-45 minutes.  It is just a matter of understanding where they are and how we want to use them.

Having sat sweetly for 25 minutes, I am calm and relaxed as I get ready for work, take care of the garden (if only it would rain), wait for a meeting with a contractor, etcetera, etcetera.

I do not believe in using the benefits of practice to enable multitasking, but on the days when everything coalesces in a less than optimal way, I am grateful for the calm center it provides.

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A Happy Life is an Engaged Life (and Sadhana)

I have spent most of my life practicing one thing or the other.  What attracts me about practicing in the sense of complete absorption that it brings.   For a time, the absorption can be enough.  Ultimately, though, the absorption should bring joy.  I do not really think that it matters what it is that one is practicing as long as steady engagement brings a sense of inner peace and bliss that enables one to be kinder and to offer service in some way.  I have quit some things along the way either because the practice did not bring enough joy or fulfillment or the practice was detrimental to my nature.

I know yoga and meditation are the right for me at this point in my life because sadhana (practice) continues to brings me ever increasing delight.  I do not think of practice as work (though sometimes I need to use some self-discipline to remind myself to practice), but as an invitation to greater depth and understanding of not only the practice, but myself.

I have friends for whom the right practice is not yoga, but something else — a visual art, music, law.  It is not what one does, but how one does it, and whether it brings a sense of fullness to life, a satisfaction with the engagement in the doing, rather than in what the doing achieves.

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Heat Advisory (and Gratitude)

It was already hot when I went out into the garden after I sat for meditation.  I try only to water every third day it does not rain and have used soil supplements such as “soil moist” to make that possible, but it was critical that I water so that the plants survive today’s blazing heat.

Before I went out, while listening to the weather forecast, I drank my second glass of filtered tap water.  I thought how lucky I am to have fresh drinking water from the tap, shelter from the heat, ice if I want it, and water for the garden.  All those warnings to stay inside, keep cool, and drink plenty of liquids are meaningless unless one has access to those things.

I am grateful, too, for my practice.  I know that a slow, quiet practice helps keep me cool and rested,  and that I can get extra enjoyment from the way the heat warms my muscles without any effort at all on my part.  In the heat, stillness is so welcome that sitting is as sweet an activity as I could know.

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Dreams (and Maya)

In classical yoga systems, we are taught that all the world is an illusion (maya) and the only thing that is “real” is Atman (spirit, the One).  I do not subscribe to that belief, but I do believe in the principle that is espoused in the Bhagavad Gita of actionless action — working because it is my nature to work, but accepting that I ultimately am not in charge of the results.  I thus can be fully engaged in my work, but be freer of anxiety, disappointment, and frustration or overcharged attachment to pleasure and success.  From a tantric perspective, I believe it is all real and full and something to be experienced as part of the marvelous complexity of being.

This principle carries over into my relationship to my dreams.  I have always had extremely vivid and present dreams most nights.  Sometimes, like last night, my dreams are full of convoluted challenges and difficulties that could be filled with anxiety.  I used to chew on dreams like that through the day.  Now I wake up and think:  what an amazingly inventive mind I have.  Isn’t the subconscious fascinating?  I pay attention to what lessons might be in the dream  and let them release the dreams from holding on to my day.  As I get more skilled with meditation and yoga, I often can find this place of simultaneous engagement/non-engagement even while I am still dreaming.  This makes it so the dreams have no more hold on my ability to sleep or act than would watching a movie that raises challenging issues.

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